https://rainbowsunited.org/team/alexia-fosterWhen I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”-Fred Rogers
That is why I love this program. There are always people helping.-Alexia J. Foster
I started working at Rainbows in the Sedgwick County Infant/Toddler Services program almost 18 years ago and I can’t imagine ever leaving. I was hired as a Social Worker, moved on to being the Assistant Coordinator and last month I accepted the position of Coordinator. Let me tell you how it came to be that I fell in love with this program.
For those of you who don’t know, Infant/Toddler Services (ITS) comes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ITS is special education for children ages 0-36 months and Rainbows is the ITS provider in Sedgwick County. We have a staff of about 50 people. The children we serve have a developmental delay. We work with babies who have been born too early or have a complicated diagnosis. We work with children with hearing impairment or vision impairment or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sometimes we work with children who are developmentally delayed and no one knows why. Their parents are scared or exhausted or overwhelmed. And that is where ITS comes into the picture. We are there to help not only the child, but the whole family.
ITS helps parents address their child’s developmental delay by providing services like Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Special Instruction. IDEA says our services must be delivered in the child’s natural environment, usually the child’s home. And the law in Kansas says our services must be provided at no cost to the family.
You see, I am a social worker by trade; I went to school to learn how to help people. Now that you know what ITS is you can see how I immediately fell in love with the idea of ITS. But the idea of something isn’t enough to keep a person hooked for 18 years. No, what has kept me here is the people. The families we serve and the staff that serve them have made me stay in love.
No parent chooses to have a child with special needs. It can and does happen to anyone. Working with families is sometimes very difficult, situations are challenging. It is hard emotionally to watch children struggle to eat, breathe, walk. It is painful to watch a parent struggle to meet the many needs of their medically fragile child. Sometimes, no matter what we do, the diagnosis is just too difficult to overcome and a child passes away. Since taking this job I have seen my share of pain; watching a child with Down Syndrome develop Leukemia, witnessing a family welcome their second child with a terminal disease, attending a child’s funeral. In ITS we see the grace that families show, despite insurmountable odds, to the world around them. When many others would be angry or bitter about the difficult circumstance facing their family, the families we serve show compassion, acceptance and love. We, in ITS, are privileged to walk alongside them.
In addition to working with amazing families, I get to work with amazing professionals. Every day I am reminded how dedicated the staff in ITS is to helping families. I regularly have staff doing home visits at 7:30am or 5:30pm so that they can meet with a working parent. Staff ask me, “Can I please continue to serve this child who has moved out of my service area? The family has gone through such a difficult time. I don’t want to add to their stress by changing providers.” I have staff who offer to go to doctor appointments with a parent, so that the parent feels supported when meeting with a specialist. ITS staff helps families identify what medical equipment might help their child. Then they help families find funding for that expensive piece of equipment. Last month a staff member asked me if they could see a child on their caseload more often than was prescribed on the child’s plan. I asked the staff member if she thought seeing the child more often would improve development. She said she thought it would help the child and I agreed to increasing frequency. The staff in ITS make decisions everyday with the child and family’s best interest in mind and I love them for it.
Now that I have explained why I am in love with this program you can see why, when approached, I had to accept this new position as Coordinator for ITS Sedgwick County. I couldn’t say no.
I am a big Mr. Rogers fan and I couldn’t wait to hang up a poster with my favorite Mr. Rogers quote in my new office. The poster has a picture of Mr. Rogers and it says; “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” That is why I love this program. There are always people helping.
Written by Alexia J. Foster, Infant/Toddler Services Coordinator